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English Songs You Need to Know in China

or why I hate "Hotel California."

I'm not sure if there is some government entity that is responsible for what English songs make it into China or not.

But no matter where I am in China everyone knows the same English songs. And they aren't necessarily the most popular ones from the US. Where did these songs come from? How did they get so popular?

First off you have to know a little bit more about party culture in China. Now I am not talking about drinking or clubs, but rather when my class or other group gets together to play games or celebrate a holiday of some sort. Unlike a western party where everyone mingles and has small conversations in smaller groups, parties in China usually include a game that includes everyone. There is a wonderfully simple but informative graphic about this created by Yang Liu who moved to Germany when he was 14 years old. This picture is entitled, "at the party." The blue represents a party in Germany while the red a party in China.

Usually at these parties the games include a "punishment" where the loser must either sing a song, recite a poem or do a dance. Now you may say, " but I can't sing." Trust me, this doesn't matter. You will hear plenty of people who can't sing choose to sing a song as their punishment.

Now if you are like me, you want to sing a song everyone knows. You know like Sweet Home Alabama or Sweet Caroline. However these Karaoke standards are strangely absent in China. So what English songs do they know? Well you are in luck because I have a small list of songs that are guaranteed to be known by your mainland Chinese friends.

The List of English Songs Everyone Knows in China. (not a complete list)

  1. Hotel California - The Eagles. Literally every time I say California my students will say hotel California like it is a conditioned response . I actually used to be able to listen this song all the way through before China.
  2. Country Roads - John Denver. This song is most people in China's definition of what country music is. If only they knew how much the old boys of Country Music didn't appreciate John Denver being considered country.
  3. My Hearty Will Go On - Celine Dion Oh the pain. As soon as I hear that flute intro and wispy vocals I kind of get sick to may stomach. 
  4. Michael Jackson - China loves MJ. If you can somehow pull off any of the King of Pop's songs a guaranteed rousing applause is sure to follow. 
  5. Sound of Silence - Simon and Garfunkel I can actually still listen to this whole song. I mean it is Simon and Garfunkel. No complaints here. 
  6. Yesterday Once More - Carpenters Again, I have no idea why certain songs are popular. 
  7. Everything I Do (I Do It For You),Bryan Adams In case you want a little throw back to Robin Hood Prince of Theirs here is that YouTube Link. Why aren't more videos set in Medieval England?
  8. Say You Say Me - Lionel Richie Did I mention this doesn't help me at all in grammar class?
  9. Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You – Glenn Medeiros Have you seen this music video? Pure beach music video goodness.
  10. Lemon Tree - Fool's Garden  In case you wanted a little 90s nostalgia. But don't think of grunge bands like Soundgarden, Nirvana and Pearl Jam. These bands are only known by the outliers who are usually in a band of their own. 
  11. Bad Romance - Lady Gaga She has become so popular that "Oh my Lady Gaga" was a popular phrase for a while. 
  12. I Want It That Way; Everybody - Back Street Boys If it is a boy band it is almost guaranteed that China will like it. (so yes to One Direction and 98 Degrees)
  13. I Will Always Love You - Whitney Houston
  14. You’re Beautiful - James Blunt As a pronunciation teacher it only makes me cringe every single time they sing You're Bootiful 
  15. What Makes You Beautiful - One Direction Same comment for BSB.
  16. I Just Called To Say I Love You – Stevie Wonder​ I can't help thing about 
  17. Girlfriend - Avril Lavigne China loves all things Avril. Sometimes I feel like Emo is alive and well in China still.
  18. You Raise Me Up - Josh Groban How I missed this my first post is beyond me. This has the perfect mix of over the top emotional rollercoaster along with fairly simple English vocabulary. 
  19. Right Here Waiting - Richard Marx it starts with those classic 80s synths, with a simple piano and a chorus that gets stuck in your head and will never leave!! Perfect for the mainland. 

This is a sub list of English songs that never came to the US that are or were insanely popular in China.

  1. Big Big World - Emilia The refrain of this song is, "I am big, big girl in a big, big world." It is no wonder no one in the US wanted to sing this out loud. 
  2. Take Me To Your Heart - Michael Learns to Rock. This song was my go to after, Country Roads. But waaaay more painful. Can you believe this was the most downloaded song of 2006?!? 
  3. Penguin Game - Gelato (I have no idea what is going on here but I guarantee this song wasn't original written in English.

There seems to be theme of super sappy love songs combined with simple English so the average English student won't have a problem singing it. What can we say, sappy romance sells! So if you are starting a band and trying to break into the China scene you better have simple lyrics that verge on cheesy. Good luck.

Oh yeah also if you find yourself in a KTV joint (China's version of Karaoke bar) I guarantee these songs will also be available. However I can't promise the spelling will be correct.

Did I miss any?

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